There are a lot of good reasons to retire early from journalism. Traveling the country might be the best.
Early next year — after almost 38 years in journalism, after 15 years at The Dallas Morning News — Keven Ann Willey is hitting the road.
She's embarking on a road trip with a 17-foot fiberglass Casita trailer, her husband and a long-brewing plan to take a year to travel the perimeter of the United States. Willey, Dallas Morning News' editorial page editor, will just have turned 60 when her retirement begins.
"My life has been journalism. My life has been, with the exception of the year at the AP, all about newspapers," she said. "What will it feel like to wake up in the morning and not have a daily deadline?"
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Like a good journalist, Willey's road trip already has a working title: "Postcards from the perimeter: A year on the edges of America." The trip will begin in Texas and head counterclockwise around the country. And while she's retiring from journalism, she doesn't plan to leave it all behind.
"Writing is part of my anatomy," she said. "It's just the way I am."
Willey's still figuring out what shape documenting the trip will take and how much structure it should have, but she's spoken with editors, a book agent and a publisher already.
It's bittersweet to leave the newsroom now, she said – on one hand freeing, on the other hand a lot of exciting things are happening in Dallas.
She'll miss that. But she's focused on journalism for so much of her life, she said, it's time to have some new adventures before she and her husband aren't able to have them anymore.
"I'm kind of interested in what else is out there."
Willey's upcoming retirement was announced in the newsroom Thursday. Here's Editor Mike Wilson's note to staff about the news:
Sometimes there’s just no way to ease into a lede: After 15 years as vice president and editorial page editor of The Dallas Morning News, Keven Ann Willey is retiring at the end of the year. Her immediate plan is to explore America with her husband.
It’s difficult to find the right tone about an announcement that is so joyful for her but so sad for us. So forgive me if I start by indulging my self-pity and reminding you of what we have in Keven and what we’ll be losing.
I’ll just say it: She’s the best editorial page editor in America. Keven’s job is to study the issues our readers care about and give our institutional opinion on them, and she and her staff do so with exceptional skill and care. She understands Dallas’ challenges as well or better than anyone in town. Name an issue and she can give you chapter and verse, from the future of Fair Park to public education to the 30 years’ war known as the Trinity River Toll Road project.
The 10-year editorial series “Bridging the North-South Gap,” about persistent inequities in our city, has been one of the most notable examples of her vision. In 2010, three Dallas Morning News editorial writers were honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for their work on the series.
Keven is not a native Texan (she grew up in Tucson), but it didn’t take her long to forge deep ties here. She knows the city’s bigwigs, having met with them at The News, interviewed them at public forums and seen them at hundreds of events over the years. She has also hosted many of them in what may be the best restaurant in town -- her home on Canton Street, which she and chef/husband Georges Badoux have turned into a haven of culinary and intellectual delights. By reaching out in all of these ways, she’s able to maintain good professional relationships even when people disagree with our editorials -- which is often.
Keven’s qualities as a leader are easy to see, but one gets special insight from her Editorial Monthly Report, which she writes for me, Jim and others. Organized around what she calls “Our Five Principles of Good Commentary Pages,” the report is our editorial page editor in a nutshell: conscientious, thoughtful, thorough, fair.
It lists every editorial written on the year’s Areas of Emphases (this year, they’re Bridging the North-South Gap, early childhood education and the working poor), names each person the editorial board met with, documents board members’ public appearances and gives metrics on audience engagement and growth.
The report even catalogs the number of op-ed columns written by liberals, conservatives, women and minorities, Keven’s way of ensuring we give readers a range of views.
Keven is a leader in our industry, having served on numerous organizations supporting journalism and the First Amendment. Earlier this year, she completed her nine-year term on the Pulitzer Prize board, culminating in a year as co-chair, which involved reading a lot of journalism and books and sitting at a dinner table with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
We’ll miss what she does, but mostly we’ll miss who she is. Keven is a kind, funny, generous colleague and a friend and mentor to many at The News.
When she is done here, she and Georges plan to hit the road and tour the outer edges of the country, from the Rio Grande to the California coast to the Canadian border. She has expressed interest in filing dispatches and I hope she follows through. In the meantime, I’m embarking on a national search for a successor. I look forward to hearing your ideas and expressions of interest.
We’ll have a proper celebration for Keven when the time comes. For now, please join me in wishing her well.